Mar 22, 2021

IRC's COVID-19 Response - Winter Report

Temperature check in a refugee camp in Jordan
Temperature check in a refugee camp in Jordan

Dear Friend,

I’m pleased to send you an update on the IRC’s response to COVID-19, which shows the impact your donations are making in the lives of refugees and displaced people during this global pandemic, especially this cold winter.

For many months the coronavirus has worsened an already difficult situation for families affected by humanitarian crises. In war-torn countries around the world, families have had to ask themselves how they can protect their loved ones from war and famine — on top of COVID-19.

The enclosed report is an overview of a few of our response efforts. It details how, with your support, we are adapting our programming and creating innovative solutions for the people we serve. You will see how your compassion and generosity have enabled, among other things, at-home education for Jordanian children, farmland development in Uganda and new medical facilities in Bangladesh.

As a member of our IRC community, thank you for supporting the world’s most vulnerable people during this historic period in our lifetime.

Together, we won’t let COVID-19 diminish our impact. Thank you for being part of the solution.


David Miliband
President and CEO


The International Rescue Committee’s COVID-19 Response — Winter Report

Overview: A Double Emergency

This year, the nearly 80 million refugees and displaced people around the world have faced an unimaginable double emergency: conflict and displacement, alongside COVID-19 and the global economic crisis it has generated. The pandemic has overwhelmed health systems, and it threatens greater devastation as it spreads to fragile and crisis-affected countries. Since March 2020, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been providing frontline support and aid designed locally to mitigate suffering globally. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have limited damage in wealthier nations and some developing countries. But in humanitarian contexts, living conditions make social distancing nearly impossible. Most people cannot work from home, and governments cannot provide sufficient relief packages or social safety nets. Thanks to donors like you, the IRC was able to launch a comprehensive COVID-19 response, while continuing our lifesaving programs in the world’s worst crisis zones.

IRC Comprehensive Response

The IRC’s comprehensive COVID-19 response is grounded in decades of responding to complex health emergencies and disease outbreaks, including Ebola in West Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo and cholera in Yemen. Our response plan has been threefold: containing the disease through education and contact tracing; meeting basic food and security needs by dispensing cash or vouchers; and providing essential services for health, emergency protection (from targeted violence, for example), and education for children. While the pandemic is a global problem, the most effective response plans are local. First responders like the IRC can be trusted to share vital data and implement measures sensitive to local contexts to mitigate impacts on health, protection, livelihoods, and food security.

Your Support in Action: Jordan

Emergency Health Care

With over 600 staff and volunteers working in northern and central Jordan, the IRC’s health programming is one of the largest NGO programs of its kind, responding directly to COVID-19.

The IRC in Jordan has improved water and sanitation measures and distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) to clinics, donated intensive care unit ventilators to Jordan’s Ministry of Health facilities, and offered more than 79,000 health consultations.

Childhood Development and Education

The IRC has worked with government and civil-society partners to develop early childhood models and content adapted to digital and social media platforms to deliver play-based activities for caregivers and at-home children.

Your Support in Action: Uganda

Fighting Health Misinformation

The IRC fights rampant COVID-19 misinformation through radio, household visits and health talks. One excellent low-tech method is attaching a loudspeaker system to a car battery and paying Boda Boda drivers to play messages in local languages.

Agricultural Innovation

In Bidi Bidi, the world’s second largest refugee settlement, our team worked with community members to obtain 299 acres of land for 643 refugees and host community members to cultivate, as well as tools and planting materials.

Gender-Based Violence

We’ve seen a major increase in intimate-partner violence in Uganda. The nationwide lockdown makes it harder than ever for survivors to seek support. When a caseworker is on the phone with a survivor, pre-established “verbal passwords” will indicate that it is not a safe time to talk.

Your Support in Action: Bangladesh

COVID-19 and Primary Health Services

The IRC has been working with partners to minimize transmission in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp. We also continue primary health services, sexual and reproductive health services and emergency services—as well as gender-based violence case management and support.

New Medical Facilities

In Cox’s Bazar, the IRC was appointed one of seven World Health Organization partners to establish a COVID-19 isolation and treatment center. IRC’s new Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Center (SARI ITC) opened with the capacity to serve more patients. Additionally, 399 staff and 499 incentive workers received PPE on a monthly basis. In 2020, more than 268,000 people were offered heath services or received risk communication and community engagement from the IRC.

Thank You

To our supporters and partners, thank you for making the work we do around the world possible. It is because of you that we were able to help so many families survive, recover and rebuild their lives in the face of COVID-19. When we needed you, you stood up and helped us deliver lifesaving support in 40 countries around the world.

Manhal and his five children in a Jordan camp
Manhal and his five children in a Jordan camp
Congolese refugees stranded on the Uganda border
Congolese refugees stranded on the Uganda border
Mar 3, 2021

Update on IRC's COVID-19 Crisis Response

Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez, refugee and doctor
Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez, refugee and doctor

Dear Friends,

More than a year after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to enact profound social and economic disruption across the globe. It is a crisis not seen before in modern times, has stolen the lives of more than 2.4 million people, and continues to jeopardize the health, wellbeing and economic realities of millions more.   

For refugees and other people uprooted, the future remains particularly uncertain. Nearly 90% of the world’s refugees live in developing countries that often struggle to provide basic services, let alone stop the spread of a highly contagious virus.    

What remains certainisthe difference your support continues to make for IRC clients, who we have been able to reach and help during this time of urgent and unmatched need.   

Your support to the IRC is helping to protect families and communities affected by crisis from the most devastating impacts of COVID-19 in more than 40 countries. It has allowed our essential workers and staff on the frontlines to adapt and deliver healthcare services, create access to clean water, provide education to children, and offer economic empowerment services for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.  

Your support is helping essential workers like Dr. Edna Patricia Gomez--a doctor employed by the IRC who is herself a Venezuelan refugee--to provide women’s health and triage support to stranded travelers in Cúcuta, Colombia. In her own words: “We’re educating. We’re screening for COVID-19. We have a specific unit that treats patients with respiratory issues. It’s fundamental for us to understand that COVID-19 does not discriminate. To understand that we, as human beings, need to unite and complement each other and refugees always have the capacity to contribute more than people admit.”   

In the coming months, the IRC will continue to keep families already fleeing for theirlivessafe by playing a vital role in training and supporting local healthcare workers in fragile places to help ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. As we now know, no one is safe until everyone is protected.   

On behalf of IRC staff, and particularly the people we serve, thank you for investing in people whose lives are shattered by conflict and disaster. Your compassion, commitment, and generosity are deeply appreciated.  


Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema  


Dec 11, 2020

Update - Help Protect Asylum Seekers

A family forced to flee Mexico seeks asylum in US
A family forced to flee Mexico seeks asylum in US

The International Rescue Committee has been supporting asylum seekers to gain protection and thrive in their new homes for nearly a decade. Over the last four years, the Trump administration’s devastating policies have dismantled humanitarian protection in the U.S. Asylum grants have plummeted, detention has expanded, and the COVID-19 pandemic is pretext to systematically expel asylum seekers at the border.

This “new normal” reflects a double tragedy. Global protection needs were already massively unmet, but those needs are likely to grow exponentially as a result of the global health and economic crises. Damage done to asylum and protection systems will take years to repair, even if there is political will. Moreover, dangerous precedents have been set and moderate governments may continue policies that violate rights, deny protection to those in need, and perpetuate racial injustice.

Last year, the IRC provided case management, humanitarian reception, and legal assistance to asylum seekers, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people seeking protection in the U.S. The IRC has served thousands of individuals, children and families seeking asylum and protection before, during and since the current sustained crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The IRC’s services include immediate assistance and comprehensive case management, legal representation to adults and unaccompanied children facing removal proceedings, and home studies to unaccompanied children. The IRC also provides limited legal assistance to vulnerable individuals affected by the Remain in Mexico policy and short-term humanitarian assistance at it’s 24/7 Welcome Center in Phoenix. Across the U.S., the IRC also serves resettled refugees, asylees, survivors of torture, and victims of human trafficking.

The IRC has been working on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018. In Mexico, the IRC is responding in 17 shelters along the border, providing hygiene kits and psychosocial support, as well as a specific shelter for refugees that facilitates a 14-day quarantine before being moved to larger government shelters. The shelter, which can hold 108 people, also ensures that women can stay safe while in quarantine, instead of on the streets where femicides are on the rise. In the shelter, women can receive virtual case management. This “Triage Hotel” provides psychosocial support, COVID-19 testing, triage and helps limit COVID-19 from entering shelters on the border, which can be poorly ventilated and include communal eating and sleeping. As part of the assistance provided in Mexico, the IRC is working with local partners to launch a COVID-19 public health awareness campaign along with psychosocial support in shelters at the Mexico-U.S. border in Ciudad Juárez.

The project will directly benefit 17 shelters hosting approximately 3,000 people and reach an additional 10,000 in surrounding host communities. The initiative will include sessions on the transmission of COVID-19, protective and preventive measures, including identification of at-risk groups, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, where to access help and support, reinforcement of public health best practices and the distribution of hygiene kits.

In El Salvador, the IRC provides emergency assistance to help those who are most at risk to find shelter and safety, as well as cash assistance to help people rebuild their lives. The IRC launched CuéntaNos, an interactive service that provides trustworthy, up-to-date information for people affected by crisis.

The IRC has recently launched a new instance of its Global ‘Signpost’ program for asylum seekers in Mexico, called InfoDigna. A collaboration between the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps and developed with the support of technology companies Google, Cisco, Trip Advisor, Twilio, Box, Facebook and Zendesk, Signpost consists of four components: bespoke information products hosted online on various platforms, connectivity via Wi-Fi hotspots to enable access to digital information, two-way communication facilitated by moderators via community-building social media channels, and regularly updated maps to locate health and other services. Since 2015, Signpost has served approximately two million individuals in seven languages through a website, Facebook, Whatsapp, blog, and an app across eight countries.

IRC’s presence on the U.S. side of the border provides a unique opportunity to link up services as well. We work with Central American families from harm to home -- from the crisis in El Salvador or Honduras, when families are stuck on the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, when they are released on the U.S side of the border in Arizona, Texas, and California, and throughout their court proceedings in the U.S. In the U.S., the IRC will continue to help meet asylum seekers’ basic needs, facilitate family reunifications, connect people to critical legal services and help them access psychosocial support.

In 2021, the IRC will need to rapidly scale up asylum, protection and immigration programs in the U.S. to respond to growing needs and maximize opportunities to promote system change that truly upholds rights. Through partnerships with local communities, migrant and refugee-led organizations and the incoming administration, the IRC will continue to deliver evidence-based programs that help vulnerable individuals survive, recover and regain control of their futures.

Asylum seekers at an IRC shelter in Juarez, Mexico
Asylum seekers at an IRC shelter in Juarez, Mexico


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